We are riding our bikes along the hard-packed sand of the beach, a wide open expanse, our breaths quickened, filled out by salt and so much wild sky. Our vision soft, receptive. Of course, you show up then. Beauty: your silvery skin gleaming as you part the surface of the water. You leap and twirl, close and closer to us. You coast along, your backs arcing across my line of vision, swirling the hard line of the horizon. You disturb the certainty of land, of pattern, of habit, of belief. You shine of mystery, of the depth beyond all human understanding: and yet you do break the surface. You do give yourself to being seen, known. My heart swells in your presence, at the gift of this.
After this first encounter I start seeking out the dolphins. I long to be in the water with them. We ride to where we first saw them. Some dolphins do show up, but far from the shore, and not jumping like that first day.
I feel how my insistence tightens me, precludes spontaneity and wonder. Do the dolphins feel this too?
Late in the afternoon on our last day, I walk along the beach close to the dunes. I'm appreciating the golden light of late September, the way it flashes through the sky and water and elates them, opening up the prism of all their colors. I'm seeing my own colors reflected back.
Of course, you show up then: three or four dolphins, swimming close. I drop my towel, and run, laughing down to the ocean. The dolphins are close, maybe twenty feet away, when I wade in...If I keep swimming out a little ways, I'll be close enough for them to encounter me, swim with me. Then, a fear crashes through me. I tighten. One breath, and the dolphins are gone, swimming far out towards the horizon.
As we drive away the next morning, I weep. I feel the ocean receding, that wild expanse of freedom and possibility. The dolphins and their inexhaustible dance. Under and above, under and above. Breathing, leaping, loving. I love my home in the Midwest, but here, we need to hunker down--we seal the doors and windows to winter over. This is a cycle I can appreciate, and I also feel great grief every fall: the way my muscles tighten against the cold, the way my permeable self draws inward for survival, for incubation. I long for the salt water to seep into my pores, for the dolphin mysteries I so nearly glimpsed.
No one told me about writing
-David Whyte, "No one told me"
Since my return from the ocean I've been reading everything about dolphins I can get my hands on. I joke about reviving my twelve-year-old girl self, the one who swoons over dolphins, begs her parents for t-shirts and posters neon with dolphin power. But, as the dolphins know, time is a spiral: as I grow older, I recognize with startling immanence the uncanny wisdom of twelve-year-old girls. The joyous and unstoppable way your fin cuts through the water. Your ancient eyes gazing into mine. Girls and dolphins know this.
Right after my ocean return, I released my first book of poems, SURGE, a book that celebrates the fierceness and vulnerability of girlhood. I experienced the launch event as a triumph, a collaborative expression of wild beauty, and a celebration of the feminine resurgence welling just beneath the current cultural clamor.
In the wake of the book launch, I've been feeling despair. So many of the deep veins of feeling I explore in my writing--being a woman, sexual violence, misogyny, the exploitation of the earth and gas-lighting of emotion--are up as themes of the current election and cultural reckoning. There's polarity here, and plenty of harshness. There's rage, and plenty to be enraged about. And there's a disembodied way of taking sides, a way that's harming us too, making lots of us physically and emotionally unwell.
And then there are the dolphins. Arcing along in pairs and pods. Catching fish, leaping, making love, and communicating in a language hundreds of times more complex than ours, feeling more deeply than we can even imagine. (For beautiful and haunting proof of this--and the peril dolphins face--please read Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey.)
I was told once, only,
-David Whyte, "No one told me"
Last week turned me on to a white noise machine. I got it for my bodywork practice, and have been surprised to find how much I love it for my own peace. It sounds like the ocean. It drowns out the clacking for moments of refuge, moments to tune in to the subtle layers of existence, beyond the polarity of our time. I've found solace inside this swathe of reality, though this ocean holds no dolphin smiles as humans would interpret them: limitless placidity. But instead the shivery depth behind her eyes. It's cutting through the surface rage and despair towards seeing--and deeply feeling--the ways in which my own words, actions, and thoughts have room to transform. Away from self-criticism, exile, grasping. Towards receptivity, honesty, deep listening, acceptance of shadow and light. Towards love.
I've found that the path of love is a spiral, one that passes many times through despair, through unknowing, and through the darkness in which magic blooms. I send you a blessing for wherever you are on this path. May you remember how to cut through the surface with your breath, heart and words; may the straight lines of your horizon be constantly, playfully, disrupted; may you glimpse a flash of ardent knowing, joyful homing, in every moment that opens you.